Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Parents question isle
autism transition

By Crystal Kua

Parents remain skeptical about the state Department of Education's ability to provide adequate services for autistic children.

"They're very nonspecific," Naomi Grossman, president of the Autism Society of Hawaii, said about yesterday's proposed transition of autism services from the Department of Health to the DOE.

During an informational briefing by the Joint Senate-House Felix Task Force, parents and autism organizations pointed to a letter they sent this week to schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto outlining why they believe school-based services won't work.

Sen. Norman Sakamoto (D, Moanalua), co-chairman of the task force, said the task force decided to hold the hearing after parents raised concerns about the process used to award contracts to private agencies for autistic children.

Sakamoto said concerns are legitimate and he hopes that contracts won't be awarded on the basis of what's best for the bureaucracy but rather on what's best for the children.

Beginning July 1, the DOE is scheduled to assume responsibility from the Health Department for educational services to 700 autistic children as part of the Felix consent decree, the 1994 court order in a lawsuit aimed at bringing the state into compliance with federal law.

Part of that responsibility will be to purchase contracted services from private agencies with an $11 million budget.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education awarded contracts to winning service providers who answered the department's request-for-proposals for services, but the department a few weeks ago rescinded the request after protests by competing agencies left the autism transition in limbo.

Parents were concerned that the transition would mean the loss of services they fought for their autistic children, but officials said the parents will not see changes in current services, at least for now.

Robert Campbell, education program and support development director, gave lawmakers a timetable of department plans including eventually issuing a new request-for-proposals in the fall in hopes of putting contracted services in place by July 1, 2003.

State Department of Education

E-mail to City Desk


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